27 December, 2012

Pinball Arcade update and the Star Trek table

Farsight has updated Pinball Arcade on the occasion of the publication of its 20th table, Star Trek, and has overhauled the app interface. 

First about Star Trek 

I do like this table. It is uncluttered in its lower part, which allows for a less frustrating game, even with the almost invisible ball of Farsight (more on this latter). The game is fast and, although less funny than some other games I can think of, quite enjoyable.

The new interface makes landscape play mandatory. While this is more or less OK for the iPad, it does make playing on the iPhone next to impossible. Moreover the landscape orientation makes for almost incessant scrolling which, combined with the bad visibility of the ball, adds a stress factor to a game which I at least would have liked to be relaxing. 

Speaking of the ball ..., I purchased the pro version of Twilight Zone hoping to have some choice on the ball. Unfortunately the only existing choices add texture (and most often only colour) on the standard ball thus making its visibility even worse. Please Farsight, do something.

16 December, 2012

Why do I (at times) hate Farsight?

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate enormously the fact that Farsight Studios decided the revive the classic pinball tables and make them available on the Mac and i-devices. Nineteen, yes 19, tables are available to date and at least one more is scheduled. The only other cases of classic tables that I know of which have been brought to the digital arena are the 8-ball and Royal Flush by LIttleWing and the Bronco Pinball which exist for i-devices. (There are probably many tables recreated for Visual and/or Future Pinball by they are beyond the scope of this blog).

Still whenever I play a Farsight pinball I hate them for their choice to make the ball so difficult to follow. When the first Pro Pinball made its appearance we had been amazed by the quality of its graphics, one most impressive feature being the fact that the playfield was reflected on the ball. Since that time digital pinball designers have considered this feature as a must and all modern pinball simulations do include playfield reflections on the ball. The downside of this is that the ball blends with the playfield and becomes thus less visible. When the designer is particularly careful there is no problem whatsoever: the ball remains clearly visible all the time. Look at these gorgeous screenshots of Littlewing games for i-devices, from Tristan

and Crystal Caliburn

where the ball stands out in a superb way. Look at the screenshot form The Deep by Gameprom: 

The, draining :(, ball is crealy visible. 

Now look at some Farsight pinballs: Funhouse first

and No Good Gofers, 

Instead of a round ball, with good contrast, we have something elliptical that, at times, becomes very hard to follow. The reason for this is that the  designers at Farsight decided to implement lateral reflections also (something totally unphysical).This is a disastrous choice. Look at what it does to the ball in Big Shot: 

When you have a very simple playfield, like the one in Big Shot, the reduced visibility of the ball is a mere annoyance, but in the case of, say, Twilight Zone 

or No Good Gofers the result is that sometimes the ball will drain because you could not see it and react fast enough. And, please, do not try to lecture me on the fact that the difficulty adds more spice to the game. Those pinballs are hard enough without needing extra help from a badly designed ball.

Please, Farsight, do change this. It would alleviate a great deal of frustration. 
Even Bronco Pinball 

has a better ball.

A tribute to Pat Lawlor

With the last update of Pinball Arcade by Farsight we were treated to one of the great classic pinball tables by Pat Lawlor: Twilight Zone. 

It is a great pinball, really fun to play with a great lot of different things. The more I am playing, the more I like this game. 

I profit from this post in order to list the Pat Lawlor tables already available in Pinball Arcade. They are: Ripley's Believe it or not 

(the most recent and perhaps the most sophisticated of the lot),
No Good Gofers

and the oldest of the lot, Funhouse 

which is my favourite.
Now we must keep our fingers crossed for a recreation of Addams Family.

And when we are at it perhaps we can keep them crossed a bit longer in the hope that when the classic Pro Pinballs are revived they will meet with such a success that there will be enough funds to finance a new Pat Lawlor table. 

22 November, 2012

A new Zen Pinball

Zen Studios are producing new pinball tables at a sustained rhythm and from time to time there is one that I find nice. This time it's the Tesla pinball that I did enjoy for a while.

For once the cluttered table does not bother me much: it is a tribute to Tesla's laboratory.

As is customary my critique with pinballs has to do with the ball. While the ball of Zen Pinballs is quite visible for an unfathomable reason it has an unrealistic "contrail" which I abhor. Moreover why did the developers festoon the table with spheres of the same size and brilliance as the playing ball? Well, at least they are situated towards the upper part and they do not make following the ball more difficult. 

Friend's influence reloaded

Once more my friend Marco has suggested a table. It's Scared Stiff from the Pinball Arcade series. 

I must say that I agree 100 % with his choice. The game is really fun to play. There are plenty of things to do and moreover I remarked that the ball does not drain too easily. A great pinball.

Since one must buy a game pack, while purchasing Scared Stiff I also got Big Shot. 

This one is an oldie but a top quality goodie. An apparently simple game but in fact quite challenging: it takes really quite some skill (and luck) in order to collect all 15 targets.

My only critique, but it is an important one and which moreover applies to all Pinball Arcade games, is the ball. Just look at the screenshots. The reflection of the playfield onto the ball is so exaggerated (and to my eyes not realistic) as to make the ball difficult to follow. I think that the first pinballs with reflections on the ball were the ones of the ProPinball series. I would suggest to digital pinball developers to go back and play the ProPinball classics: the ball is clearly visible at all moments. Among all the existing simulations only those of Littlewing obey the elementary rule to keep the ball clearly visible.  

31 October, 2012

More on Pro Pinball

Silverball Studios are not throwing the towel despite the Kickstarter setback. In a recent interview at RedBull, Adrian Baritt explained that the team will pursue their work on reviving Pro Pinball. A new Kickstarter campaign may be launched and the objectives will be somewhat less grandiose. In particular the platforms to be supported initially will be just iOS, PC and Mac. If the second Kickstarter does not work, the team 

intends to finish the game in their spare time. Once the first table is finished there will be hopefully sufficient income for the development of the remaining tables and, why not, a new one.

So Pro Pinball is coming back.

30 October, 2012

Best digital pinballs

Following a tweet of the ProPinball team I ended up at g4tv.com where they were presenting their list of top 5 "virtual pinball tables". The results were not a big surprise. Here's the list

1. Theater of magic (Pinball Arcade)
2. Fantastic journey (Pro Pinball)
3. Funhouse (Pinball Arcade)
4. Marvel pack of pinball fx2 (Zen Studios)
5. Timeshock (Pro Pinball)

That got me thinking. What would be my top 10 list? So, here it is

1. BigRace USA (Pro Pinball)
2. Funhouse (Pinball Arcade)
3. Monster Fair (Littlewing)
4. The Web (Pro Pinball)
5. Crystal Caliburn II (Littlewing)
6. Timeshock (Pro Pinball)
7. Believe it or not (Pinball Arcade)
8. Fantastic Journey (Pro Pinball)
9. Fairy Tower (Littlewing)
10. Mad Daedalus (Littlewing)

with a special mention for Tristan  (Littlewing). All four Pro Pinballs are there but you may remark that my favourite ones are not the ones most people prefer. Littlewing has also four pinballs in the top 10 (to say nothing of the special mention one). The two Pinball Arcade tables are the ones by Pat Lawlor. I also like a lot the third one in this collection (No good goffers) but I find it somewhat hard to play: there are moments when it is almost impossible to follow the ball. Why on earth people do not follow the example of Littlewing's iOS ball? It is so shiny that you can never miss it.

P.S. While compiling the top 10 list I realised that the blog entry for Monster Fair and Fairy Tower was never published. It only existed in limbo as a draft. This is now remedied,  (with my apologies to Littlewing, my favourite digital pinball designers). 

02 October, 2012

The dream will come true

While it seems that we are not going to get a new Pat Lawlor table, one thing is 100 % sure upon reading the recent mail from Silverball Studios: ProPinball is coming back.

It may take more time than what was initially planned, there may be "a few less bells and whistles" but the important thing is that ProPinball, the four tables we adore, the ones we have spent whole hours on, is coming back. Not only on the Mac but on the iPad as well. A few months back that was just a wild dream.

I am burning with impatience but one must know how to wait. In the meantime there will be regular updates here, as soon as Silverball releases them.

It's a pity we will not have a new Pat Lawlor table. Let us hope at least that Farsight Studios, the makers of Pinball Arcade, who have already published "Ripley's Believe it or Not", "Funhouse" and "No good gofers", are going to publish the remaining Lawlor classics.

25 September, 2012

An exception

For once I am not going to write about pinball. Those who have followed my blog may remember that in the pinball prehistory I talked about my favourite game on the Apple II: Serpentine.
Having written about it I decided to go looking for it on the web. And by some miracle I stumbled upon Pythentene. It's a resurrection of Serpentine. Written, in python, by Rob Leachman the game runs perfectly on my iMac.

If you are tempted, you can download the game here.

In fact Rob may recreate this game for idevices. I, for one, look forward to this.

22 September, 2012

Friend's influence again

My friend Marco did it again. He pm'ed me with praise for the new Zen pinball table: Avengers. It features the six Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye) and each character has a special ball. The fact that each ball is non-uniformly painted makes the trajectories look somewhat bizarre (they are not, it's just an optical effect). The table looks nice. The moving parts are less intruding than in the previous Zen pinballs. There are plenty of ramps, perhaps too many since they even manage to almost hide the bumpers.

Do I like Avengers? Well, not really. The game is fluid but I do not manage to grasp its purpose. After some time, hitting the ball around does become boring. I think I will wait for the Plants vs Zombies table (which is supposed to come out soon) again from Zen.

21 September, 2012

More mediocrity

Two new pinball tables came out for iOS from ASK Homework: Speedking 

and Hippie

What can I say? Although the tables are not cluttered there is no real improvement over the recent ASK pinballs. Some of the graphical elements give the impression that they have been hastily finished (look at the borders of the red corridor in the upper right part of Speedking) while the flippers remain mediocre (at best) and the balls are a disaster.

I have the impression that the ASK team is cranking out new tables just in order to make a fast buck. So, unless there is some substantial improvement I will not bother reviewing their pinballs in the future.

12 September, 2012

A dream that may come true

I have never denied it: I am a huge Littlewing fan. But...
if you ask me what are the best pinball tables ever, I will not hesitate a single second to answer: ProPinball.

If you have followed my blog, you already know that these legendary tables have passed away. They play on PowerPcs but not on Intel Macs and the only way to keep them alive is to play the pc version thanks to a wine wrapper. There was no hope to see them on idevices till now. 

But this has changed. Just visit this kickstarter page. 

You'll learn that Adrian Baritt, the guy behind the ProPinball team is planning to revive these legendary pinballs. Not only this, but he has teamed with another mythical pinball designer, Pat Lawlor, who has brought us, among others, FunHouse and the Addams Family, in order to build a fifth, brand new, Propinball.

Go to their their page and pledge some money to the project (I did pledge 75 $). If they manage to get 400000 $ before October 5th they will go ahead with the project.

It's going to be tough, but I keep my fingers crossed.

09 September, 2012

The new Gameprom

Gameprom, which has been amply mentioned in previous posts, has just published another table for i-devices: Arcade Pinball

It's a nice one. I do like the idea of acade simulation inside the pinball game: after all a game is meant to be entertaining. Also depsite the presence of the arcade simulation and a pachinko corner (!) the table is less cluttered than the most recent Gameprom ones. So this one is a silver medal winner: to my eyes it's the best pinball on iPad after Crystal Caliburn.

P.S. Arcade Pinball does exist now also for the Mac.

28 August, 2012

On friends' influence

After I wrote a more than lukewarm critique on Zen Pinball, Dock/Nick and Marco Visser chimed in with praise for its tables. In particular the latter was enthousiastic about Excalibur (which exists on the iPad). Thus I decided it was time to give, at least to that particular table, a chance. I purchased Excalibur

and played it on the iPad. Well, all I can say is that I am not hooked. It has perhaps less intrusive bells and whistles than Sorcerer's Lair but, still, it's not a pinball I will return to regularly.

27 August, 2012

On tables and balls

The success of a physical pinball depends essentially on the table design and the gameplay scenario. There are limits on how complex the latter can be, some limits having simply to do with the laws of physics.  

Digital pinball on the other hand presents an additional difficulty, that of simulating accurately the real world. This should be the first worry of all digital pinballs designers but, unfortunately, quite often they get sidetracked and forget this crucial point.

Take for instance the pinballs of ASK Homework (already mentioned in the present blog when we talked about iOS pinballs). They started with some unnecessarily complicated tables, one example of which is Vampire

and evolved towards much simpler ones like the already mentioned Mummy and the more recent Aliens.

While this is commendable it does not suffice to make the ASK pinballs satisfactory. The first reason is the ball simulation. One has the impression that the ball has zero weight. The fact that balls of various materials and qualities are offered does not improve the situation in the least. On the contrary. To make thing worse, the designer offers a collection of flippers. Some of them are silly and none has good mechanics. So, while ASK did make a move in the right direction it is my opinion that much more work is necessary before they graduate to the high quality pinball class.

13 August, 2012

Another Littlewing masterpiece

Once Tristan was out the Fujitas went back to their initial plan for an iOS pinball: Crystal Caliburn. It appeared this month and it is, as expected for a Littlewing product, a superb pinball.

The table has been reworked (notice the darker lighting, which suits better the game atmosphere) and more 3D elements are present. The physics are, as always, top-notch and the gameplay perfect. Crystal Caliburn is a perfectly balanced game. You can play in a relaxed way and still manage to score something decent. However if you aim at a score in the billions then the game becomes hard and you must milk every extra ball for points. 

There is little wonder why I am an incurable Littlewing fan.

On iOS pinballs

I had convinced myself that I would never enter the iOS-pinball jungle. The reason is that in just three-four years the iOS-pinball production surpassed that of Mac-pinball, which was spread over almost thirty years. Also I was not willing to devote a non-negligible budget to the purchase of all iOS-pinballs around (which, even if I did, would have been an almost impossible task since some games may exist only for some specific iTunes store). Moreover, the necessary time for playing thoroughly every table and shape an opinion would have been both prohibitive and unwarranted. 

Still, since I was fatally attracted to both the iPhone and iPad, I ended playing pinballs and shaping an opinion on many of them. Thus, albeit reluctanty, I decided that it was time for some entry on iOS pinballs. However my presentation will focus only on the pinballs I deem worth mentioning. No mention of the infamous Pinball! any more. (By the way it is called Pinball-HD in iOS: the name  "Pinball" was already taken by some other forgettable game). 

You will not be astonished if I tell you that my preferred pinballs are the ones I already like most on the Mac. Thus the creations of Littlewing, Farsight and Gameprom offer the best pinball experience on the iPad. (Yes, one can play on the iPhone, but if one wishes to really enjoy a pinball one should rather use an iPad). Gameprom has some specific iOS tables of high quality (but all of them too complicated graphically for my taste), AC/DC, Da Vinci, Snow

Let's see how the new, under develoment tables will look.

There are several honourable mentions. First the big classics Pinball Dreams

and Pinball Fantasies 

have been ported to iOS. I played both of them on the iPhone (the iPad did not exist yet) and I cannot get hooked. Perhaps this is due to the fact that these were wintel-only pinballs and the nostalgia factor is absent for me.

Then there is a pinball which is definitely below-par, physics wise: Bronco.

Its main merit is that it reproduces a classical table. If only they could couple it with a decent physics engine…

ASK Homework have produced many pinballs in the series Real pinball and Age of Pinballs. They are decent but I somehow cannot get myself to like them. The only one I find somewhat more interesting is the single-table one, "Art of pinball, the Mummy"

Finally there is a pinball by Cartoon Smart called Kingpin:

The gameplay is not bad and the graphics rather nice. Unfortunately they are are insisting on the pistol-shooting aspect (even more so with the most recent Pinball Showdown) and this is spoiling the game.

In the first version of this entry I had forgotten another pinball (in fact the first iOS pinball I have seen, on a friend's iPhone, back when I had no i-device myself). It's the pinball in the iPhysics pack.

I like it because it has a very simple table. On the other hand the feeling is that of a flash-pinball and so, today, I find that it does not make the cut.